We love the way that Maura describes the feeling of 'waking up' one day to discover four years of valuable experience under her belt, which at the time might have felt disparate or unremarkable. Her success was built on following an instinctual connection to the community that centers around food. If you don't already know about BeerMenus, it will be hard not to get distracted by their unique story as you read Maura's own.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
Food, and the sharing of it, is and has been an integral part of every important relationship in my life for as long as I can remember. Consequently, creating these intimate shared spaces around food is something I began pursuing just as early. However, it did not occur to me until around the time I finished college that I could take this personal passion and pursue it as a job. One afternoon when discussing my desire to write with my career counselor, she told me to go home and think long and hard about what I want to share with the world. I did not have to think too hard, the answer was simple: food. Several months after this moment, while working as a National Park Service Intern, a group of us interns attended a lecture in Berkeley given by Michael Pollan and Alice Waters. When we arrived, Alice Waters filled the table at the front of the lecture hall with fresh vegetables and elaborated on her philosophy regarding school garden education. She then invited us all to come share in her edible bounty-it was a bit chaotic, but I came away with a bunch of broccoli rabe and a newfound sense of purpose. Before that evening working in food seemed like such a broad concept, but hearing both of these food titans speak reminded me that what I love best about food is the community we create with it.
How did you get your current good food job?
Last summer, right after finishing my Americorps program, I began a part time position as the Interim Youth Programs Coordinator at the Gardens on Spring Creek, a local botanic garden, where I'd been volunteering for about a year. Since interim positions are temporary by nature, I began looking for more permanent part time work with the potential for growth. The same week I found a posting on Good Food Jobs for a remote position with a company based out of New York called BeerMenus. I'd oscillated between beer and education jobs for so long that this position seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine those skills. Working in the craft beer community is great because even on a national level it feels like a close knit group. For example, here in Fort Collins where you can't trip without falling into a brewery, the beer community works together to help the newbies start up. I applied for the job and heard back pretty quickly. Actually, the responses were so prompt I spent a good deal of time analyzing correspondence to figure out if my soon-to-be boss was an autoresponder or not!
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
My chronological work experience reads as a continual movement between work in education and specialty food. I knew I wanted to combine the two, but I needed to build experience in each to gain the proper foundation for a job in food communication. Throughout college I worked as a barista as well as a Student Life and University Guide. Afterwards I took an internship teaching school programs on Alcatraz Island to middle and high schoolers in the Bay Area. Upon finishing that internship I spent a month and a half herding goats and making cheese through WWOOF, which landed me a cheese counter job at a Whole Foods in San Francisco-this was my first professional introduction into working with craft beer as cheese, beer, chocolate, coffee and wine are all in the same department there. The best part of this experience was when the Fancy Food Show happened down the street from our store and my boss sent me over to sample cheese and snacks to my heart's content. Eventually I set off to Colorado where I worked in a taproom at High Hops, a brewery/hop farm/garden store combo. I bounced back into education for a year, through a local Americorps program called Colorado Reading Corps. At the same time I began roasting and selling coffee beans through the Colorado Cottage Foods Act at a local farmer's market, before landing my current combination of positions at BeerMenus and the Gardens on Spring Creek.
In my work at BeerMenus I pull from all these experiences daily. A lot of my work is with people who are behind the bar and in grocery stores. Since I've been in their shoes I can better understand and anticipate what they might want/need. I also really enjoy the chance to keep expanding my craft beer knowledge through conversations and requests-as well as partnerships like this Roadmap to Cicerone webinar series.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
I used to feel like I had to learn and know everything immediately. I wanted to be an expert cheesemaker, a well respected writer and an all-knowing baker right then. The process of balancing learning opportunities and paying the bills felt hectic at best, and often I worried I would never gain the experience needed to break into the food world. Then it seemed one day I woke up with 4 years of education and specialty food experience under my belt and a few pretty great jobs. I think my curiosity for understanding the inner workings of the things I eat helped me keep going. Even at times when I worked outside of the food world, I was reading and testing projects in my own kitchen. The fun parts of food, what brought me to it in the first place, are what keep me going when the rest of it seems too frustrating to think about.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
For most of college I worked as a Student Life and University Guide (SLUG) with the UC Santa Cruz Office of Admissions, and for this position we had quarterly trainings. Seasoned guides would share experience with the new batch of SLUGS and we would update all our stats and school highlights. At one of these trainings we did a few exercises on finding the common ground no matter how different we might seem at first. This was a great tool for working with the public, but continues to be a perspective I use in my everyday life.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Right now I think the best opportunities in food are the ways we can create community around it by supporting our producers and feeding each other. There are so many unique ways people in various aspects of the food world are creating this space. For instance, the Gardens on Spring Creek has an amazing program called Plant it Forward that brings in thousands of pounds of fresh produce for the Larimer County Food Bank. This program connects people to each other and their food system while feeding the community. I also think the movement in different parts of the country to connect with local history, culture and climate through food is great-like the movement in New York to rediscover the history of hop growth and bring local hops and malts into the brewing industry.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Bike frames, unlimited produce and a magic mug that fills with whatever I wish.